Why outfit your import car with winter tires?

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You probably don’t plan on racing down the white-capped Alps in your Audi or burning rubber at the top of frigid Mount Fuji in your Toyota, but even in Libertyville, installing snow tires on your import automobile can be a hot idea for the cold weather.

We understand the allure of “all-season tires”: No shelling out the bucks for four more tires, and no seasonal wheel changes each season year.**

But a number of foreign car makers recommend snow tires in their owner’s manuals, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Toyota and Volvo. And we’ve witnessed first-hand how our customers who drive European and Japanese cars can benefit from snow tires.

Here are two key reasons why: Buying new tires_ iStock_000044475538_Medium

  • Winter tire treads grip ice and snow better by using raised blocks of tread that are designed to channel snow, ice, slush or water away from the tire’s surface. This design also improves “bite” in situations in which traction has been compromised by snow or slush build-up on the road surface. Plus, snow tires also feature razor-thin grooves within the tread that permit improved contact between the tires and wet road surfaces.
  • Rubber compounds used for performance and all-season tires start to feel a chill at a mere 45°F by stiffening, which decreases a tire’s gripping ability. The softer compounds used in winter tires, however, allow them to remain flexible even in extremely low temperatures.

Tire-buying tips

Convinced snow tires are the way to go? At Auto Lab, we can help you select a quality set of winter tires for your vehicle and your driving needs. But if you want to get a jump start on the research, we recommend:

  • Buying four matching tires. Installing winter tires only on the drive wheels will result in unpredictable handling and might be dangerous.
  • Considering a second set of wheels. This will save remounting the tires each season. Instead, you simply swap out the wheel/tire sets. If you purchase a set of inexpensive steel wheels for permanent winter duty, it also protects your expensive alloy wheels from the harsh, salty winter.
  • Installing your snow tires around Thanksgiving and then back to all-season in late March or early April. You want to have your snow tires on the car before the first snowfall. That’s hard to predict! But as the temperature nears 45 degrees, the all-season tires grow stiffer. And in the spring, warmer temps compromise the softer rubber of the winter tires.
  • Store off-season tires in a cool, dry area out of sunlight. Consider wrapping them in black plastic bags to reduce oxidation.

Are you ready to invest in winter tires for your European or Asian car? Stop in today or make an appointment, and we can help you prepare for the first snowfall of the season.

** Keep in mind that having two sets of tires isn’t doubling the expense, it’s halving the wear. You’ll have twice the number of tires but buy new ones half as often.

 

 

What to do if a dashboard warning light comes on

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Q. My college-age twins are heading off to college, and I am worried they might not recognize the warning lights on the dashboard or worse yet, just ignore them. Can you give me a crash course in how to educate them about dashboard lights?  

A. Remember flash cards? Many of us learned our three Rs—Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic—using them.

Dashboard lights can signal preventive maintenance needed or warn you of a more serious repair issue.

When it comes to that Libertyville or Mundelein college-age driver heading to school, you might want to add a fourth “R”—Riding—to the list, because that “flash” is more likely to be a dashboard light illuminating vs. card stock being held up.

When a dashboard light comes on, your young motorists need to know how critical a particular warning light is and whether they need to:

  • Pull over ASAP.
  • Keep driving but head directly to an auto repair shop.
  • Keep driving and schedule an appointment for service at their earliest opportunity.

 

All those green, orange, blue or red illuminated symbols might seem like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to your college drivers, so we’ve prepared a mini Rosetta Stone-like guide to help prepare even the most disinterested driver with some behind-the-wheel know-how.

You’ve been warned
Be aware a light might function differently depending on the situation. For example, a flashing check engine light is a sure-fire signal to get that car into a service facility immediately. However, a constantly illuminated check engine light will buy you more time until you can make an appointment with Auto Lab.

When these lights come on, you should pull over safely ASAP:

  • Engine Temperature/Coolant Light (A hot set of wheels is a cool thing; an overheated engine is not.)
  • Oil Pressure (This is a potentially engine-frying hazard.)
  • Powertrain Malfunction (Something might be amiss with your transmission. Indicates either a malfunction or a high transmission temperature.)

When these lights come on, you should head directly to an auto repair shop:

  • Battery or Alternator (A power outage can be enraging, and your car may not restart if you pull over and turn the engine off.)
  • Flashing Check Engine Light (This is more critical than the Check Engine Light staying on steady.)
  • If a combination of warning lights are displayed or if your dashboard lights up like a holiday tree.

When these lights come on, you should schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience:

  • Brake Light (Stopping when you want to is such a great feeling.)
  • Tire Pressure Monitor (Underinflated tires not only compromise safety, they slurp gas.)
  • Parking Brake (A constantly illuminated one of these could mean more than just an engaged parking brake.)
  • Airbag (Only a crash test dummy would risk faulty airbags.)
  • Traction Control
  • Bulb Failure (There’s a reason the roads suddenly seem darker at night.)
  • Tire Rotation (Passed your 7,000-mile mark?)

It’s also a good idea for young drivers to review non-warning dashboard lights, such as those indicating whether high beams (often blue), fog lights (many times green) or blinking hazard lights are engaged or if the cruise control is on or if the doors, hood or trunk are open. Ditto for traction control and four-wheel drive indicators.

Study the owner’s manual
Don’t fret if you don’t know what every dashboard light symbol means. Today’s cars have so many different warning lights that it’s almost impossible to know what these all mean. Encourage your young drivers to know the important indicator lights, and for the rest, they should look them up. The best place to look for a symbol is the owner’s manual which always should be kept in the car, not at home.

Before your student heads off to school, stop in for a complete auto repair checkup at Auto Lab.

How often should I change the oil in my car?

Question: I was reading an article recently that said changing my oil every 3,000 miles is an outdated idea that costs me more money and is bad for the environment. According to the article, today’s oils can go 5,000 miles or more and I should look at my owner’s manual to see how often the oil really needs to be changed. What do you recommend at Auto Lab?

Answer: If your car uses conventional motor oil, such as 5W30 or 10W30, we recommend changing the oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months. If your car uses synthetic oil, we recommend an oil change every 5,000 miles or 6 months. You can push that to 6,000 or 6,500 miles if you almost always drive on the highway.

Why? In short, oil is cheap and engines are expensive. In my own car, I use synthetic oil and change it every 5,000 miles.

A lot of carmakers have tried recommending longer oil change intervals, and in a number of cases, it’s come back to haunt them.

Ford had been recommending an oil change every 10,000 miles, but the engines began to fail at a much higher rate than normal and they had to replace a lot of engines for free. They’ve since backed the interval down to 7,500 miles.

If you Google “Mini Cooper” or “Toyota” and “sludging,” you’ll see a slew of information about the problems consumers have had with their engines and their extended oil change intervals.

Modern engines are made with such precision, such tight passageways, that clean engine oil is absolutely critical. If you push your oil beyond its useful lifespan, it starts to break down. It turns into a jelly—or sludge—and it starts to clog these passageways. If that happens for a long time, the clean oil can’t circulate properly, and it causes all kinds of expensive engine problems.

While there have been a lot of improvements in today’s vehicles and in oil, tires, etc., we’d rather err on the side of caution and change the oil more often than risk damaging the engine, which can cost thousands of dollars to repair or replace.

 

 

What are the true costs of buying a new car?

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What are the true costs of a buying new car vs. maintaining your current vehicle? You might be surprised at the answer. Don’t just take our word for it or that of the new car salesperson but review the facts about the costs associated with buying a new car before you take that leap of faith.

The average new car price has jumped in recent years. Kelly Blue Book analysts reported earlier this year the estimated average transaction price for U.S. light vehicles as $34,428 in December 2015. That’s a $297 (0.9%) jump vs. the same period the previous year.

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Even the most expensive repair bills for an old car can’t outweigh the cost of depreciation on a new one.

Could it be that new car smell is giving off a serious funk, after all?

At Auto Lab, we want you fully informed as you weigh this important decision. We suggest you to check out these resources for details on the trust cost of a new car:

Edmunds: Their True Cost to Own tool helps you calculate the cost of the car loan plus depreciation, loan interest, taxes and fees, repairs, insurance and more. Start your research here!
Consumer Reports: Tips for deciding if you need a new car
Kiplinger: Should you keep your old car?
Edmunds: When to repair your car and when to buy a new one
Money Crashers: Keep driving an old car or buy new – what’s better?

You can rely on Auto Lab to give you an honest assessment about what your vehicle needs and why. We take the time to answer your questions. We’ll help you prioritize necessary repairs and offer expert advice, including deciding whether to buy that new car or repair your current one.

Remember, when you  stop by Auto Lab, we can help you determine if keeping your older car is worth it. Call us today to set up an appointment.

Why did my tire repair cost so much?

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Question: I got a flat tire last weekend when I was leaving the Cubs game and had to use a shop in the city to repair it. The cost was $40! Why was the repair so much? Didn’t patching a tire used to cost $10 to $15?Flattened in Libertyville

Answer: Well, times have changed. Gone are the days when patching a tire was a quick and easy repair job.

For safety reasons today, the Rubber Manufacturers Association and tire manufacturers require a plug-patch repair. First, a rubber stem (a.k.a., a plug) must be applied to fill the puncture, and second, a patch must be applied to seal the inner liner. A plug by itself is not an acceptable nor safe repair.

 

Repairing tires this way properly and safely seals the puncture on both the inside and outside. But it also means we have to remove the tire from the rim to access the damaged area. As you can imagine, this involves a lot more steps—and time—than it used to. (If you like a good technical read before bedtime, you can check out the Rubber Manufacturers Association Puncture Repair Procedures here.)

To repair a tire today, we need to:

  1. Use a tire machine to remove the tire from the wheel.
  2. Clean and prep the area around the puncture.
  3. Apply the tire plug from the inside.
  4. Remount the tire on the wheel—just like you have done when you buy a new tire.
  5. Rebalance the tire & wheel—also, what you have done when you buy a new tire.

So what used to be a 10-minute tire patching job is now a multi-step process that takes at least 30 minutes. And if you have alloy wheels, the auto repair or tire shop needs to have special tire mounting and balancing equipment that doesn’t damage the wheels. These two pieces of equipment cost about $25,000.

While $40 may seem like a lot for a tire repair, it’s the result of all the above. I hope this helps you understand why it costs more today than it did years ago. The good news is that you were able to save your tire. A client of ours recently had a nail in a tire and had to replace all four tires because she has an all-wheel drive vehicle. But that’s a blog post for another time.

Have questions about tires or tire repairs? Contact us today.

 

 

New car free maintenance: Oil changes once a year?

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Q: My new car came with free maintenance. But when I called the Libertyville dealer to schedule my first oil change, I was told the service might not be covered because “it’s too soon.” The car uses synthetic oil and has 5,200 miles on it. Isn’t it time for an oil change?

How to get the most value from your new car free maintenance plan, including oil changes, in Libertyville, ILA: In our expert opinions, yes, you are due for an oil change.

But when it comes to the “free maintenance” that comes with your new car, following the “free” service interval may cost you more in the long run.

Here’s our advice for getting the most out of these new car maintenance programs while not getting taken for a ride:
 

  • Understand what your free maintenance plan includes and excludes. The plans vary dramatically by automaker. Some carmakers, such as Audi, cover only the car’s first service visit—at 15,000 miles. Conversely, BMW’s program lasts for 50,000 miles and covers all factory-recommended maintenance, oil changes, fluid services, brake pads, brake rotors and wiper blade inserts. Here’s a guide from Edmunds.com on Free Car Maintenance Programs, what they include and what the average savings amounts to. As Edmunds.com points out in its article, “Don’t get hung up on the savings figures. It’s more important to look at the actual services that are covered by the free maintenance program.”
  • Don’t assume that what’s covered in the free program is the same as the recommended maintenance schedule…or that it’s the best maintenance plan for your car. While this may seem counter-intuitive, we’ve seen it time and again. And as you learned, your program covers only one oil change per 10,000-15,000 miles or 12 months. While we’re happy to debate whether its best to change the oil at 3,000 miles or 5,000 miles, none of the expert auto technicians at Auto Lab are comfortable recommending an oil change every 10,000+ miles, even if it’s synthetic oil. That’s when “free” isn’t so, well, free. If you plan to keep your vehicle for many years and 100,000 miles or more, extending your oil change interval out now to save $30-$60 on an oil change could have costlier, long-term consequences.
  • Do the math. For many of us, time is a valuable and scarce commodity. One question to ask yourself with regard to free maintenance is: How close and how convenient is it to get your new car into the dealer for your free oil change and wiper blades? Can you drive up, get in and out within an hour? Or do you need to schedule a week in advance only to spend 2 hours pacing in the waiting room while they do the oil change? Sometimes, the real savings is in the time savings, and at Auto Lab, we can change your oil and your wiper blades while you wait.

It boils down to: Do your research. Understand the limitations of a particular automaker’s maintenance program. Read the owner’s manual, and learn what is recommended vs. what is covered under your maintenance plan. Ask yourself what’s most important to you.

Of course, at Auto Lab, we’re happy to offer truly free advice about your maintenance needs. Contact us today if you have any questions. Then you can make an educated decision on whether a “free maintenance” program is truly free.

5 worthy road trips within a day’s drive of Chicago

Lake Forest pre-inspection car summer travelHaven’t saved up enough for a summer vacation, but know a staycation just ain’t gonna cut it with the kids (or spouse)? How about a “daycation”?

One day. 24 little hours. Just like Dinah Washington’s classic tune, “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.”

Even if a flight to Disneyland or trek to Walley World is on your agenda, a day-long road trip here and there sure can cut the monotony.

Illinois boasts plenty of road-trip-worthy destinations, so whether your starting point is Libertyville, Vernon Hills or Mundelein, the Land of Lincoln provides the ticket to cool times during the warm weather. We present our Top 5 picks:

  • Volo Auto Museum—Fanatic about all things four-wheeled? This is the place for you. The museum in Volo includes such iconic vehicles as Herbie, Fred Flintstone’s stone-age ride, the Batmobile, Speed Racer’s Mach 5 and much more. In addition, there’s an antique mall on the grounds and the site is host to many special events throughout the year.
  • Starved Rock State Park—Ready for the rugged outdoors? You won’t be starved for excitement at Starved Rock State Park with its waterfalls, bluffs and canyons. Located along the Illinois River, the park includes hiking, canoeing, paddle boat cruises, trolley rides, fishing and picnicking. If you want to stay overnight, you have a choice of cabins or historic Starved Rock Lodge.
  • Cantigny Park—Wheaton’s Cantigny Park features 500 acres of fun, including formal gardens, golf course, picnic grounds, the Robert R. McCormick Museum and First Division Museum. The park is host to many festivals, lectures, concerts and workshops throughout the year.
  • Donley’s Wild West Town—Tucked away in Union, Ill., you’ll think you’ve not only traveled back in time but across the great plains all on less than a tank of gas. Put on your cowboy hat and enjoy shoot-‘em-up wild west shows, archery range, tomahawk throw, canoe rides, cowboy roping lessons, vintage carousel, pyrite gold panning and more. There’s shopping and a museum that houses not only western and Civil War-themed items, but an antique phonograph and music box collection.
  • Metropolis—Home to the Man of Steel, Metropolis, Ill., boasts the Super Museum and its $2.5 billion worth of Superman collectibles. Plus, a statue of actress Noel Neill’s portrayal of Lois Lane adorns Metropolis’ streets. As if that’s not enough super-sized fun, Metropolis also is home to the Americana Hollywood Museum with its movie props, life-size figures, costumes, posters and more devoted to Tinseltown’s biggest stars, including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Angelina Jolie and Pam Anderson.

“What a difference a day makes.”

Before you hit the road, schedule a pre-road trip checkup at Auto Lab. We recommend scheduling a week or two before you leave. Here’s why.

Are drugstore reading glasses like an oil change at a quick lube?

We think so. Here’s why:

1. Cheaters are a quick solution to an immediate need—reading things close-up when your vision is blurry. Nothing more. An oil change at a quick lube station is a quick solution to the immediate need to keep your car’s engine lubricated. But by going to a quick lube, there won’t be a complete inspection of your vehicle’s overall condition or identification of safety issues.

2. Cheaters are cheap. But cheap in the short term does not equal cost savings. If your brakes go out while driving or your battery dies, leaving you stranded, you are going to spend extra for that tow truck and your loss of time. Both of these things could easily be prevented by having your car regularly inspected when you come in for an oil change at Auto Lab.

3. Cheaters are convenient. It’s easier to pick up a pair while you’re shopping rather than set an appointment for an eye exam. But you can’t replace a good eye exam with a pair of cheaters. Annual eye examinations check your vision and the health of your eyes. Did you know that diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis can be caught early by an eye exam? Likewise, it requires an experienced ASE-certified technician to identify any repairs needed or perform necessary preventive maintenance other than an oil change. We may take a little longer to do your oil change, but that’s because we are doing more for you during that time.

So, the next time you drive by that quick oil change station and think it is more convenient, less expensive or the same service, think again. And remember: With Auto Lab, you can drop your car off for an oil change and then borrow a loaner car or ask for a shuttle ride to get back home or to the office.

Get your car ready for spring with our 6-point checklist

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Winter may have expired for the season but it can cause long-term effects on your car. Frigid temperatures, potholes, road salt and more can to do a number on your vehicle. Some of the casualties caused by wintry conditions are wheels knocked out of alignment or damaged shocks, struts and other suspension-system parts. And there’s more where that came from.

Many times, cold-season-created problems become apparent only after the mercury has risen. In other words: Just because spring has sprung doesn’t mean you’re immune from a sproing!

Add to that the effect rising temperatures have on Chicago-area roads (warmer weather often opens up a lot of potholes) and you can see why now is the time to “spring clean” your car.

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Here’s the Auto Lab Spring Cleaning for Your Car checklist:

1. Wheel alignment/shocks/struts. The winter served up a whammy on our Chicago-area roads by creating potholes, humps and bumps. These also might have done a number on your vehicle’s suspension and wheel alignment. A strut’s or shock absorber’s primary purpose is keeping us safe by ensuring tires maintain road contact and don’t bounce up or leave the pavement. Worn shocks also make it harder for a car to stop. Likewise, a vehicle whose wheels are out of alignment can chew through tires at a rapid pace.
2. Windshield chips and headlight/taillight surfaces. Lots of loose stuff kicked up on winter highways can strike windshields and headlight surfaces. Chips can rapidly spider web into major cracks requiring complete windshield replacement. Before that happens, we recommend repairing the chip to keep it from spreading. Need advice on whether you should repair the chip or replace the windshield? Call on your experts at Auto Lab. We’d be happy to help advise you.
3. Tire pressure. Let’s face it: Getting out of the car on blustery days to check the tire pressure probably isn’t tops on your fun list. If your car isn’t equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and you haven’t been keeping tabs on your psi readings, it’s time. Underinflated tires slurp excess fuel and wear the outer treads faster. Changing weather conditions and temperature fluctuations can impact tire pressure significantly. In fact, every 10-degree decrease prompts a 1 psi dip. Therefore, check tire pressure monthly. Don’t rely on your eyes to “gauge” whether a tire has enough air. That only works for severely deflated tires.
4. Slop and salt. Slop and salt. So often, that’s the refrain of a Chicago winter. Combat the crud Old Man Winter left on your car with an inside-outside detailing service through Auto Lab.
5. Dents and dings. Sometimes, that December-through-March mayhem leaves more than just grime on your vehicle. Bring in spring by taking care of those dings. Repairing those minor blemishes is easy, thanks to a process called Paintless Dent Repair. Repairs are made without the use of paint or body fillers.
6. Tip-top temp control. Chicagoans appreciate a well-functioning heating and air conditioning (A/C) system. If you feel your heating system wasn’t quite pushing out the warmth this year, why risk the A/C conking out when those outdoor temps start jumping? Let Auto Lab’s technicians make sure your heating and A/C systems are working properly.

Want some help readying your car for spring? Schedule an appointment today at Auto Lab in Libertyville.

Your Check Engine Light: What you need to know

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A Check Engine light isn’t cause for alarm but it could signal an important warning sign. Its presence could mean any number of under-the-hood snafus. Your vehicle’s Check Engine light can pop on for more than 1,400 different reasons–all related to your vehicle’s tailpipe emissions.

Part of your vehicle’s on-board diagnostics system, the Check Engine light can indicate anything from a quick fix (such as a loose gas cap or faulty spark plug) to a mid-sized problem (mass air flow sensor or oxygen sensor) all the way up to a big-time repair (such as a catalytic converter that’s on the fritz).

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Make an appointment when you see the Check Engine light on your dashboard.

In some cases, you can avoid those larger repairs by responding immediately to an illuminated check engine light. For example, if your oxygen sensor is at the end of its lifespan, replacing it right away can spare the catalytic converter. But if the oxygen sensor is failing and allowing excess raw fuel to flow into the catalytic converter, it will shorten the lifespan dramatically.

One modern-day automotive myth is that isolating a Check Engine Light problem is as simple as attaching a diagnostic tool to the car’s computer and read a code. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Detective work by an automotive-service expert is required to properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Rather than reveal a single problem, the trouble code points to a system that’s triggering the problem. Compare it to someone suffering from a fever. Sure, a thermometer placed under the tongue shows a 100-degree reading. But does that number indicate whether that individual is suffering from the common cold, a flu, an infection or some other illness? No. That’s why a physician’s knowledge is needed.

Ditto for a Check Engine light. The code indicates an area in which a problem has occurred. Much like that 100-degree thermometer reading, a single code could be triggered by a number of causes. For example, a fault code in the EGR system (which recirculates some of the exhaust gases back into the engine cylinders) could signal a faulty and costly EGR valve or it could simply mean that the EGR passages need to be cleaned. It’s up to an automotive service expert to correctly identify the problem and advise you on the proper and most cost-effective cure.

Some are easy to figure out. Others take some time to diagnose. So, don’t ignore that Check Engine light. Make an appointment today at Auto Lab and we’ll start working on determining the main cause of the problem that’s making that Check Engine light illuminate…and get it fixed fast.

One added warning: a flashing (vs. constantly lighted) Check Engine light indicates a repair should be performed ASAP. Bring your vehicle in for service immediately to avoid serious damage or risk being stranded.

Questions on your vehicle’s Check Engine light? Don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help you uncover the underlying problem with your vehicle.